December 15, 2023 human rights

Nepal's historic equality milestone: First LGBTQ+ couple celebrate receiving marriage certificate

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Surendra Pandey and Maya Gurung (r) with Nepal's first-ever marriage registration certificate issued to an LGBTQ+ couple.

Picture courtesy Maya Gurung

Last month marked a historic milestone for LGBTQ+ rights in Nepal, as the country officially documented the first same-sex marriage. The Himalayan nation has become one of the first in Asia to permit it, following Taiwan.

On November 29, authorities formally recognised the union of Mx Maya Gurung, 35, a transgender woman who has not changed her gender on official documents, and Mr Surendra Pandey, 27, who was born and identifies as male.

Surendra Pandey, reflecting on this ground-breaking act, emphasized its significance.

“This is a huge achievement not only for us but for all sexual and gender minorities,” he told me commenting on the historic event which unfolded five months after the Supreme Court issued an interim order permitting same-sex couples to register their marriages.

The monumental decision of Nepal’s Supreme Court came on June 28, directing the government to establish a transitional mechanism enabling the registration of same-sex and other non-traditional marriages.

Since 2007, Nepal has officially recognized three genders – male, female, and other – thereby effectively permitting the registration of six different types of marriage.

While human rights campaigners welcomed the verdict, its impact on the ground remained limited. On July 13, Maya Gurung and Surendra Pandey faced rejection when attempting to register their union at the Kathmandu District Court. The court referenced the 2017 Civil Code which only allows heterosexual couples to be married.

In late July 2023, following this setback, I had the opportunity to meet with the couple in Kathmandu. “We are committed to fighting until the very end,” Surendra Pandey said then.

Having shared eight years together, the couple had participated in a traditional Hindu ceremony six years ago at the renowned Sohrakhutte Paknajol Ganesh Temple, where they vowed to stay together for at least seven reincarnations.

Nepal, a country with two primary religions, Hinduism and Buddhism, acknowledges as many as six different genders. Non-traditional unions are commonplace in the temples of Nepal, and the marriage between Surendra Pandey and Maya Gurung followed suit.

In response to their journey, the couple founded the Mayakopahichan Nepal organization, dedicated to supporting other same-sex transgender individuals to prevent them from encountering challenges during marriage.

“We will help any person who wants to get married through this organization,” affirmed Surendra Pandey.

The struggle for marriage equality in Nepal commenced in 2007 when LGBTQ+ activists, led by Sunil Babu Pant, the leader of the Blue Diamond Society, sought anti-discrimination measures in the constitution.

Unfortunately, they were unsuccessful during the constitutional drafting following the power struggle between the authoritarian monarchy and pro-democratic organizations.

Reflecting on the registration of Nepal’s first same-sex marriage, Sunil Babu Pant expressed immense joy.

“I have the feeling of satisfaction like climbing up a high mountain and reaching the top.”

Written by:

author_bio

Jefferson He

Editor-in-chief

London, United Kingdom

Born in 2007 in Hong Kong, Jefferson studies in Reading, England and plans to attend a university in the United Kingdom.

Jefferson joined Harbingers’ Magazine in 2023 — first as a contributor, but quickly became the UK Correspondent. In 2024, he took over as the editor-in-chief and acting editor of the Politics section.

Additionally, Jefferson coordinates the Harbingerettes project in Nepal, where a group of 10 students has journalism-themed lessons in English. He spends some of his holiday reporting on the development of LGBT+ rights in Asia (one of his articles was published by The Diplomat).

He is interested in philosophy, journalism, sports, religious studies, and ethics. In his free time, Jefferson – who describes himself as “young, small and smart” – watches movies, enjoys gardening and plays sports. He speaks English, Mandarin and Cantonese.

Edited by:

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Sofiya Suleimenova

International Affairs Section Editor

Geneva, Switzerland

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